Advil: Benefits and Potential Side Effects

Considerations When Taking Advil As a Pain Reliever

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Whether it's to ease a nagging headache or a sore back, many people do not think twice about reaching into their medicine cabinet for an Advil, which is the brand name for ibuprofen.

While very effective at easing pain and inflammation and generally well-tolerated, Advil (and other versions of ibuprofen, like Motrin) is associated with a number of possible side effects. Some of these side effects are very serious, such as an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and stomach bleeding.

By learning about both the benefits and potential dangers of taking Advil, you will be one step ahead in weighing the pros and cons of this drug, if you consider taking it.

Benefits

Advil is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs work by blocking cyclooxygenase enzymes, called COX-1 and COX-2. These enzymes normally lead to the formation of fatty, hormone-like substances in the body called prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins are involved in the body's inflammatory and healing processes. By blocking prostaglandin formation, the symptoms of inflammation—pain, fever, and swelling—are reduced.

Since these symptoms of inflammation are associated with many different medical ailments, Advil is a common go-to drug for all sorts of symptoms, including:

  • Headaches and Migraine
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Backache
  • Toothaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Minor pain of arthritis

Advil is also used to reduce fever and body aches of the common cold or flu.

Besides its diverse use, Advil is easily accessible, as it's available both over-the-counter and as a prescription at higher doses. Advil also comes in many different forms, including tablets, gel caplets, and liquid-filled capsules.

In addition, Advil may be combined with certain other drugs to either augment its effect or treat combined symptoms.

Examples of Advil combination medication products include:

  • Advil Multi-Symptom Cold & Flu: A cold and flu drug that contains Advil, chlorpheniramine maleate (an antihistamine), and phenylephrine (a nasal decongestant).
  • Advil PM Liqui-Gels: A nighttime sleep-aid that contains Advil and Benadryl (diphenhydramine HCl).
  • Advil Dual Action With Acetaminophen: An "extra" pain-easing formula that contains both Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil.

Finally, Advil can be administered to infants and children—although, in different dosages and formulations (e.g., drops, suspension, and chewables).

Side Effects

All medications are associated with potential side effects, and Advil is no exception.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects of Advil include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas or bloating

Serious Side Effects

Advil may also cause rare, but serious, side effects.

Cardiovascular

Advil and other NSAIDs (with the exception of aspirin) increase a person's chances of developing a heart attack or stroke, and this risk (while present for everyone) is even higher in people who have a history of heart disease, or who have risk factors for heart disease.

Examples of such risk factors include people with:

  • Diabetes
  • A history of smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol

Seek Emergent Medical Care

When taking Advil, if you experience symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, such as chest pain, trouble breathing, sudden weakness or numbness, or difficulty speaking, seek medical attention right away.

Advil and other NSAIDs may also increase a person's blood pressure, and increase their risk of fluid retention and heart failure.

Gastrointestinal

While Advil is associated with a range of mild gastrointestinal side effects (mentioned above), with prolonged use, Advil and other NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal bleeding and a complication called peptic ulcer disease. Bleeding and peptic ulcer disease may cause symptoms such as black or bloody stools, abdominal pain, weight loss, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting.

Patients most at risk for serious stomach-related side effects include patients who: 

  • Are older (over 60 years of age)
  • Are taking another NSAID (in addition to Advil)
  • Have a history of stomach ulcers or bleeding problems
  • Drink three or more alcoholic drinks every day while taking Advil
  • Take Advil at a higher dose or for a longer duration than advised
  • Are also taking aspirin, an antiplatelet like Plavix (clopidogrel), a corticosteroid, or an anticoagulant (blood thinner), like coumadin (warfarin)

Liver

In rare instances, Advil may lead to liver injury, and this risk is increased with high daily use. Symptoms and signs of liver injury may include:

  • An elevation in liver enzymes (seen on a blood test)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)

Kidney

Advil, like other NSAIDs, may also cause kidney injury, and dehydration may increase a person's risk for developing this complication.

Allergy

Allergic reactions may also occur with taking Advil. Symptoms may include hives, facial swelling, wheezing, rash, skin reddening, blister, and even, anaphylactic shock.

Considerations

If you are considering taking Advil, it's important to first speak with your doctor to ensure it is safe and right for you.

For certain high-risk populations—elderly or patients with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or a history of ulcers or stomach bleeding—your doctor may recommend an alternative medicine, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen).

Besides reviewing the above side effects, other points to address with your doctor and/or keep in mind include:

  • It's important if you are taking Advil to take the lowest dose for the shortest duration possible
  • Ask your doctor if you need monitoring while taking Advil, especially if you are taking it more long-term (for example, a blood creatinine level to check your kidney function).
  • Do not take more than one NSAID at a time, as this increases your chances for side effects
  • To avoid drug interactions, be sure to tell your doctor all of the medications you are taking
  • If you are pregnant, do not take Advil unless directed by your doctor. Advil and other NSAIDs may cause harm to the baby if taken during the third trimester. 

A Word From Verywell

Advil is a commonly used drug that while effective in reducing inflammation, pain, and fever is associated with many different toxicities, some of which can be potentially life-threatening.

A good takeaway message here is that for healthy individuals, taking Advil (ibuprofen), or another NSAID, now and then, is probably safe and fine.

However, in people with underlying health conditions and/or in people who require long-term use of or high doses of Advil or another type of NSAID, the benefits may not outweigh the risks. In these cases, an alternative drug should be strongly considered.

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